COLUMBIA - U.S. Department of Energy officials
have indicated they are willing to negotiate further on legislation
offering South Carolina protection against becoming a permanent
storage site for plutonium, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. John Spratt,
D-S.C., said Tuesday.
After a meeting Tuesday between DOE officials, Spratt and U.S.
Rep. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Spratt legislative director Rudy Barnes
said, "It seems to us there is still some room to maneuver."
"They seemed to give signals that there was some room to discuss
those areas of concern," Barnes said. The parties should know by the
end of the week whether a deal is possible, he said.
DOE spokesman Joe Davis confirmed that a meeting was held "in one
last effort to reach an agreement" but did not provide details about
DOE plans to transfer 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium
to the Savannah River Site near Aiken, where it would construct a
facility to convert it into mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel for nuclear
Gov. Jim Hodges has threatened to stop the shipments if DOE
doesn't enter into a binding agreement to remove the plutonium if
the MOX program stalls.
Spratt has voiced concerns that legislation worked out between
DOE and Graham left too many loopholes for the department to escape
penalties if the SRS winds up being used for long-term plutonium
Hodges echoed those concerns early Tuesday, when he expressed
dissatisfaction with Graham's proposal and presented his own
legislative proposal based on his and Spratt's concerns.
"Why should we accept something that's half a loaf?" Hodges
Graham's bill would create $1 million-a-day penalties, up to $100
million a year, for DOE if it failed to meet deadlines for
converting plutonium into MOX fuel.
Among the changes Hodges seeks, some of which were in an earlier
agreement advanced by DOE:
n DOE would not ship plutonium from sites other than Rocky Flats,
Colo., and the Lawrence Livermore lab in California until one year
before the MOX plan is complete.
n DOE must set a final date to remove all plutonium.
n Adjust the $1-million-a-day penalties to meet inflation, to
ensure it doesn't become cost-effective for DOE to consider the
penalties a "long-term storage fee."
n Plutonium shipments would stop if the MOX program falls behind
schedule. Also, DOE would agree to a stricter schedule for the work.
Hodges also continues to seek assurances from DOE that it won't
ship the plutonium until South Carolina gets an agreement. DOE has
said it could begin shipping the plutonium in two weeks, but Graham
has said it might delay shipments if South Carolina's delegation can
put up a united front behind a bill.
Graham said his legislation is "the best deal anybody's ever
gotten in the history of our nuclear program.
"We should not be the plutonium dumping ground, and with this
statute, we won't," he said.
DOE may be willing to accept certain changes but not those that
would give South Carolina a say in national security programs,
Graham said. The conversion is taking place as part of a
U.S.-Russian program to dispose of nuclear weapons material.
Hodges said he continues to explore a number of strategies for
stopping the plutonium, including taking DOE to court.
Graham said, "If the governor sues, I think we're going to lose."
Losing a lawsuit would be the worst scenario, Graham said,
because that would leave South Carolina without any of the
protections legislation could provide.
Contact Gene Crider at (803) 256-3800 or firstname.lastname@example.org.